The Afghanistan players were standing forlorn in the post-match ceremony – long faces and hands on hips. All that changed when the tournament officials were commemorated on the dais. As the name of match referee Sukhbir Singh, from Singapore, was announced there was an extended round of applause from the losing finalists.
The Afghans’ sarcasm may be lost to all who view the act in isolation, but put into perspective the events of the past 90 minutes, especially one crucial juncture in the 64th, when Jeje Lalpekhula was tripped in the penalty box by Afghan defender Faisal Safa, and it seems easier to comprehend.
Singh’s crucial penalty and an immediate red card to Afghanistan captain and goalkeeper Hameedullah Yousufzari, who pushed the referee after awarding the penalty, firmly turned the final on its head and helped the defending champions cruise to a comfortable 4-0 win at the JLN on Sunday after an uninspiring first-half outing where a mixture of brilliant saves from custodian Karanjit Singh and errant finishing from the Afghans kept India in the match.
India’s super striker Sunil Chhetri showed great composure to put the ball in the back of net from the ensuing penalty, not once but twice after the spotkick was retaken due to an Indian player running into the 18-yard box before Chhetri had connected the first time.
With a man advantage and the opponent’s morale shattered, India closed out the match in style with a further three goals in the final 15 minutes. In the 78th Chhetri released Clifford Miranda, who was marauding down the right flank. Miranda ran into the penalty box, cleverly skipped between two defenders and slotted the ball home.
A minute later, Afghanistan lost the ball on the edge of their half. Chhetri picked it up on left flank and found strike partner Jeje, who drilled a left-footer past the hapless goalkeeper.
Substitute Sushil Kumar put the icing on the cake with a rasping strike in stoppage time.
‘Sikh referee biased’
Afghanistan coach Yousef Kargar launched a shocking tirade against referee Singh in the post-match interaction, even calling him bias and racially motivated. “In the first half, we played very well. In the second half, the referee’s poor judgment killed the game. The penalty affected the morale of the team.”
“The referee was biased against us. I don’t know whether if he is a Sikh or a Hindu and hence he favoured the India players.”
India coach Savio Medeira, however, said that had the Afghan goalkeeper not overreacted, they could’ve still made a game of it.
Final result: India 4 (Chhetri 71, Miranda 79, Jeje 80, Sushil Singh 90+5) bt Afghanistan 0